Celtic 1 St Johnstone 0: Stokes lights up low-key affair as fringe players fail to shine
00:42 GMT, 4 May 2012
Celtics' charity stopped short of
giving St Johnstone a helping hand to qualify for Europe as Neil
Lennon’s weakened champions maintained the chasm at the top of the SPL
A night which began with a pre-match
concert from the Thai Tims ended with a fifth successive league win
which underscored the manager’s intention to end the season with the
foot firmly on the gas.
Happy 21st: Celtic's Anthony Stokes scores the only goal
Celtic: Zaluska, Mark Wilson (Cha 74), Kelvin Wilson, Rogne, Izaguirre, McGeouch (Hooper 68), Wanyama, Ledley, Commons (Ibrahim 74), Bangura, Stokes. Subs Not Used: Forster, Brozek, Lustig, Blackman.
Goals: Stokes 28.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Maybury, McCracken, Anderson, Callum Davidson, Millar (Riordan 42), Morris, Adams (Haber 76), Murray Davidson,
Craig, Sheridan. Subs Not Used: Enckelman, Moon, Oyenuga, Moffat, Hutchinson.
Ref: Crawford Allan (Scotland).
Lennon watched his third successive game from the stand courtesy of a second touchline ban from the SFA kicking in, yet the bird’s-eye view was again to his pleasing. While he would doubtless prefer to be in the dugout, his temporary vantage point might just be growing on him.
It’s not often that pre-match entertainment can drag fans into a ground half an hour before kick-off but many in the 45,000 crowd were in place for that reason last night.
A club formed for charitable purposes 124 years ago went back to its roots to fly 42 disadvantaged children from Asia to Glasgow for a week they, and indeed those who saw them perform, will never forget.
After a pre-match concert in the centre circle, they took their place in the stand to watch a contest that, in truth, rarely set the pulse racing.
With a massive lead at the top of the table and Rangers swatted aside with ease on Sunday, Lennon was afforded a luxury rarely afforded to managers — scope for an experimental line-up in a competitive game.
Banned: Celtic's manager Neil Lennon watches from the stands
He made seven changes from the side that
started on Sunday, a selection that, in the cases of Emilio Izaguirre
and Mo Bangura, gave game time to players whose seasons have been badly
hit by injury.
Dylan McGeough, the midfielder whose stunning solo goal against St
Mirren was voted the best of the season by fans, was rewarded for his
promise with a first start while Mark Wilson, a likely departure this
summer, wore the armband.
The five-man midfield predictably shaped by Steve Lomas served to
frustrate Celtic in the early exchanges, with Murray Davidson and Jamie
Adams knocking their counterparts out of any kind of rhythm.
Crunch: St Johnstone's Jamie Adams (right) collides with Celtic's Kris Commons
When Thomas Rogne went back to front with a searching diagonal, Anthony
Stokes had no shortage of options but his attempt to pick out the
onrushing McGeough at the far post was poorly executed.
The yellow shirted-visitors forced a succession of early set-pieces but
none came close to testing the sharpness of Lukasz Zaluska, the Polish
keeper another who was enjoying a rare first-team run-out.
St Johnstone must just have been fancying their chances of taking what
would have been deemed a bonus point in their quest for Europe when they
fell behind from what, from Lomas’s perspective, was an extremely cheap
goal to lose.
McGeough fed a short corner to Kris Commons, who rolled the ball on to
Victor Wanyama. The Kenyan’s deft chip was helped on in turn by Mark
Wilson and Stokes applied the finishing touch from five yards.
Crocked: The assistant referee sits on the pitch after sustaining an injury
Bangura had been busy enough up until that point without really
threatening. Sixty seconds after the opener, he almost claimed his first
goal in a Celtic shirt by turning onto Commons’ pass and firing low.
The outstretched arm of Alan Mannus denied him his moment of joy.
Referee Crawford Allan dipped into his pocket for the first time to
caution David McCracken for tripping Stokes before Commons tried his
luck from the resulting set-piece. Mannus moved his feet quickly to
deny the midfielder.
Saints’ early promise faded the more the first half wore on. A rare
set-piece was teed up by Liam Craig 20 yards out but his normally trusty
left foot failed him as the ball arced the wrong side of Zaluska’s
Lomas was forced to replace the injured Chris Millar with Derek Riordan
three minutes from the break and, as Celtic looked for any change in
formation, their defence temporarily switched off.
Flying the flag: The Thai Tims perform before the game
Jody Morris played a delicious ball in behind the back four which, if
anything, gave Murray Davidson too much time to think. Credit to
Zaluska, though for standing up big and blocking with his legs.
Celtic started the second half on the front foot. Joe Ledley’s volley
was parried by Mannus but Commons was unable to prevent his follow-up
shot from flying over. The Saints keeper then did well to keep an eye on
Commons’ free-kick as it breached the defensive wall.
Bangura was next to try his luck, turning McCracken inside out, only for his shot to rebound off the post.
Having enjoyed a lucky break, Saints almost levelled three minutes
later. Wanyama ran into trouble on the edge of his box and was thankful
that Morris’s chip drifted wide.
While the deficit remained a single goal, Saints’ heads remained up.
What a pity, from their point of view, that Cillian Sheridan hadn’t
thrown himself at Riordan’s cross with 12 minutes remaining. The target
looked to be at his mercy but he seemed to give up the ball.
Celtic thought they had doubled their lead in the closing seconds but
substitute Gary Hooper’s was offside as he tapped in fellow sub Rabiu
Ibrahim’s goal-bound effort.
There was one final change to the line-ups. Linesman Raymond Whyte
pulled up injured, forcing fourth official David Somers to replace him.
There was even some sympathetic applause for the crocked official as he made his way up the tunnel. A world first surely.